Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Revelation

Came back to my town
after a long time.
Walked into my neighborhood
provision store to buy feed for my
starving, hungry frig.
Browsed around,
found what I wanted.

The check out counter is being
manned by an old grouchy man. I look
around for his ever-smiling son, who
normally used to be in the counter.

The man, though having seen
me many times before, seems
preoccupied as he is making the
bill, and does not acknowledge my smile.
As I extend my hand to collect
the change, I ask, “Where’s your son?
I don’t see him around…”

The mans face twitches.
His mouth struggles to
find words. His hands tremble.
His eyes suddenly fill
with tears to the brim, that seem
threatening to overflow.
My heart sinks, as I feel I
have committed an
awful faux-pas.

“He died last month,”
the man finally is able
to prise the words out of his mouth.
He starts to wobble on his legs.
A shop assistant comes and helps
him sit down and she
gives me a nasty “How-can-you-be
so-inconsiderate” look.

I shrug apologetically, and say to her
with my eyes, “Hey, I’m awfully
sorry, I didn’t know.”

But she doesn’t acknowledge,
and takes over the counter.

The son was only 28 and
had had a heart attack.
“He was such a good son,”
says the man, still miraculously
holding back the tears. “he took
care of his wife and children
and his parents, so well.”

I nod. I don’t know what
to say except that he was
so friendly to customers.

But the man is in his own world.
“Whatever I touched, turned to gold,
but God has cursed me when it comes
to my son,” he mourns. “What use is
all these wealth, if I don’t
have my son?,” he asks.

I can’t answer the question,
Because it touches a raw nerve in me.

We are quiet for a few minutes.
It seems so odd, in the middle
of a crowded vacuous evening shopping,
the two of us are in deep, serious thought,
on life and death.

“Do you know what is the
worst curse God can give
a man?” he asks me suddenly.

I don’t know and shake my
head in helplessness.

“It is, to condemn a man,” he says,
“to outlive his progeny.”
Now the tears break free
and scamper down his cheeks,
and he suddenly seems
to age considerably.
He seems not unlike a collapsing
balloon, shrinking, shriveling.

I know I can’t talk to
him anymore. I cannot
lessen his sorrow with
any of my cursory words.

I walk out of the shop, crestfallen.
I feel awful. Here is a man, who
has lost a son who was so close to him,
all these years. A son, whom he used
to see everyday, talk everyday…

What if there is a father, on
whom his son had walked out of,
on some ego problem?
And what if that father were condemned
to such a state?

Ten years is too long a time
in this short life to hold a
grudge. And I don’t want to condemn
that father , if it happens, to
an even worse fate of not having been
able to talk to the long lost son…

Then, that son would be even
more cruel than God.

I reach a nearby long
distance telephone booth.
As a familiar and authoritative
voice answers, I choke.
There is a long
moment of silence between the
thousands of kilometers of
telephone lines. And even longer
distance between two estranged hearts.

I finally mange to blurt out,
“Hello, Dad…”


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